Concerns about the environment and sustainability are increasingly prevalent in all sectors as global warming becomes a key topic in society. The packaging sector is one example of an area of business that can have huge environmental impacts due to its vast consumption of paper and plastic materials. As well as the requirement for increased throughput volumes and efficient processes, sustainability is now a key consideration in the selection and design of packaging materials and packaging machinery. When it comes to sustainable processes, the main focus with packaging equipment is on reducing environmental damage by:
- Changing the way packaging is applied to use cubic-volume space more effectively and facilitate shipping
- Making machines more efficient and also reducing energy consumption during the packaging process
- Delivering systems that are compatible with recycled materials and shrinkwrap films that use fewer raw materials
Automation in the shrinkwrap packaging sector embodies all of the above elements, and has made substantial progress towards achieving sustainability goals. Since its introduction in the 1970’s, shrink wrap plastic has had a huge impact on packaging methods. It represents an incredibly economical packaging option and the development of shrink wrap machines made packaging processes very efficient.
Shrinkwrap machines are available in a range of sizes, so you can buy a machine that is most suitable for the items being wrapped. Indeed, machines can cater to different pack dimensions to some extent, but if you have especially large items then the machine will need to be larger than if a machine only needs to handle smaller pack sizes.
Fully automatic machines will have an in-feed and an exit feed conveyor. The majority of machines need floor space of at least twenty to twenty-five feet, although some systems can be over seventy feet in length! Shrinkwrap solutions can be designed for high-speed bundling, or to work with products at lower throughput rates. Businesses can increase their output significantly with automatic shrinkwrap machinery, as fully automatic machines can wrap thousands more products each day than semi automatic shrinkwrap machinery or manual systems.
Based on low-end estimates of eight items per minute with semi-automatic machines, it is possible for two users to package 3840 items daily. Based on the smallest output amounts of twenty-five items per minute with automatic machines, those same users could package 12,000 items each day. Greater output is a key benefit of automatic machines. Within months, the improvement in staff productivity will cover the cost of these autonomous systems.
Using Fewer Materials for Packaging
Increasing numbers of manufacturers have stopped using corrugated packaging for their products. This trend has been fueled by the need to reduce the quantity of packaging materials to improve resource consumption and reduce carbon footprints. Cutting the amount of packaging minimises the cube space required for shipping packaging, as well as the products once they are packaged. Shrinkwrap is a great performer in this regard because it is so thin – this material saving can provide significant material reductions when packaging products, especially when several products are bundled together in a multi-pack.
In addition to reducing the transportation requirements when compared with cardboard packaging materials, shrink wrapped products remain dry and clean, and are less likely to be tampered with during transit. This keeps products such as over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, food and laboratory/hospital supplies safer and reduces waste with food products. However, these benefits can only be realised with proper application, which can only be achieved with a shrinkwrap machine because products can be packed so effectively. In contrast, products wrapped by hand may be exposed to contamination, or human error may result in improper application. When properly packed with an automatic shrink wrap machine, products will be ready for consumption as soon as they reach their destination. This allows you to better meet customer demand for products in good condition, while also saving on the cost of labour associated with packaging.
Using Film More Efficiently
Modern automatic shrink wrap technology makes economic use of film and offers flexibility, with regards to the range of films available. Shrink wrap film consists of polymers with additives that take on specific shapes, when exposed to heat. A person or machine positions the products inside the material, before applying a heat seal seal. The film can then be fed into a heat shrink chamber which shrinks the material to conform to contours of the products. The degree of film shrinkage varies, from one film type to another and the temperature of the heat chamber.
It is vital to maintain good quality protection and achieve consistent seals no matter what the product. Using an automated machine reduces film waste so there is less trim or scrap per package and fewer changes of film roll. Modern machines also offer great control over the elements required for an effective seal – namely temperature, time and pressure. It is possible to achieve a good level of protection with films that shrink at lower temperatures, which can translate to considerable savings over time.
During the previous ten years, the process of shrink wrapping products has been enhanced significantly with automation. These advancements reflect the increased computing power of PLC controls, high-speed streamlined camera technology and improved servo-driven motor performance. Cumulatively, these developments support precise film application and product control for shrink wrapping at high-speeds. The end result is a quick, dependable and versatile packaging solution – using the smallest quantity of film possible – with reduced labour requirement.
Adopting a Sustainable Approach
As we have seen, there are several reasons why shrink wrapping has become the packaging method of choice for many manufacturers. Shrinkwrap films reduce the transport costs and resource requirements of packaging when compared to cardboard alternatives. Modern technology improves throughput efficiency and process controls of shrinkwrap machines, while delivering the same level of performance – providing they are maintained properly.
There are modern shrinkwrap films available that are made using renewable materials and can be recycled and composted. Technological advances in this space have also led to the development of thinner materials, which can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of product packaging. Pairing modern machines with renewable materials is a great option for companies with concerns about the environmental impact of the product packaging.
Unlike humans, packaging machines do not get tired and are unaffected by health hazards, like COVID-19. With automation, production lines can stay operational 24 hours a day and high levels of hygiene can be maintained by removing people from the packaging area.
Of course, not all manufacturers are ready for fully automatic machines. There are still benefits to adopting a semi-automatic shrink wrap machine. Undoubtedly, these machines play a key part in achieving sustainable packaging practices, by limiting environmental damage. Speaking to a company like Kempner may help you determine what type of machine will complement your existing operations, and what type of machine will facilitate your future expansion. Prior to making a purchase, Kemoner will work with you to ensure a solution is designed to suit your space and products..